Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in January 2016

Cover imageSlim pickings for January Books Read (But Not Reviewed) – just two books and, unusually for me, both are non-fiction. Regular readers will know that this blog is all about recommendations – books I’d be happy to give to a friend – and indeed I did give this one to a friend for her birthday and bought a copy for myself at the same time. John Lewis-Sempel’s Meadowland, is a year’s worth of observations of a slice of meadow on his Herefordshire farm. I loved the idea – still do – but as you may have gathered, it was far from an unalloyed joy. The problem is over-writing, florid phrases of the type which need a good trim. No lilies left ungilded, here. I prefer my nature writing in the Kathleen Jamie style: nice and spare. That said, it taught me things I didn’t know and for that I’m grateful.

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, however, comes with a wholehearted recommendation. Life expectancy has rocketed over the past few decades yet most of us are hopelessly unprepared for ageing, choosing instead to see our final years as pleasantly free of work, pursuing new interests and spending more time with family and friends before quietly dying in our sleep. The reality is far more likely to be a long slow decline which we will need help to negotiate. Gawande is a surgeon who decided to explore how we cope with ageing after Cover imageobserving what happened to his American wife’s grandmother who had no plan for dealing with infirmity and comparing it with his own grandfather’s declining years spent with his extended family in India – far from always the idyll we might like to think and even when it is, now becoming more of a rarity as India’s economy flourishes. He explores the current solutions on offer including some inventive and original approaches, later extending his investigation to palliative care for those suffering from a terminal illness bringing both together in a moving case study of his father’s last years living with cancer and how the family dealt with it. His emphatic conclusion is that we need to listen to those dear to us when they tell us how they want to live as they become more frail and know what it is we want for ourselves in the same situation. It’s a humane, compassionate book but I was very glad of a rare few sunny days as I worked my way through it.

9 thoughts on “Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in January 2016”

  1. The second book certainly sounds like a subject that we will all have to grapple with more and more, as families move further apart or abroad, as the elderly population grows, as we live longer but with more infirmities etc. It’s something that we avoid talking about in families, typically, but I’ve seen my mother nearly go to seed completely when she looked after my grandmother and I often wonder how I would cope, or how I would want my children to cope with me.

    1. It’s the kind of discussion that’s either avoided or has one party (usually the ‘child’) mentally sticking their fingers in their ears while singing lalala. None of us want to face it but it would be better for all of us if we did. It’s a very thoughtful and convincing book, well worth a read.

  2. I am hearing good things about Being Mortal all over the place. Considering its subject, it’s hard to imagine that it can be such a good read. Is it the inclusion of personal stories that make it stand out?

    1. The personal stories certainly add to the book’s humanity, Naomi. It’s an extraordinarily thoughtful piece of writing – Gawande has to rethink not just his professional attitudes but his personal ones, too, and he’s utterly convincing. Not an easy read but I came out the other end of it feeling that it was an essential one.

    1. Delighted to hear that, Naomi. I think it’s essential reading. It tackles an issue that we all dodge -unless we’re very brave – then pay the price later.

  3. I read Being Mortal last year and would definitely recommend it too – it’s such an important book to read but also very worrying to think that there is a real shortage of doctors working in geriatric and palliative care.

    1. Very much the less ‘glamorous’ side of the medical profession so it seems but one for which there’s be an increasing need. The way in which the geriatrician, as Gawande observed, treated his patient as a whole person rather than a set of symptoms made a great deal of sense.

  4. Pingback: The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam: There isn’t one | A life in books

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.